Wednesday 26 February 2014

Grief dancing

When a child dies, your world stops. A peaceful passing or a struggle to the bitter end, an expected event or a tragic accident, is irrelevant; your world stops. 

Problem is, the rest of the world doesn't. It might pause for a while, but eventually the world moves on. And you are left with a dislocation, the knowledge that you are forever slightly out of step with the rest of the world. You may connect, you may mesh, but like a broken zipper, there are places where the cogs which once held you so closely to the world just gape open. And you can paper over them, and move around them, you can get used to avoiding them, but you can't ever really pull the two worlds back together in the way they used to be. 

When Goldie died, she was in a hospital a long way from home. Prayers and love, pain and suffering, nursed by strangers but thankfully surrounded by many of the people most important to her. I don't know, I can't know, what she was feeling at the time. But I do know what what carried me through was the knowledge of the love of God, his presence tangible at my side, his sorrow and his grace flowing over us in that busy little room. And over the next however long it was - because time flows differently too, when you lose a child - the only respite from the suffocating sadness was to fall back into worship. 

A long drive home, and yet my hands steered my bus not to my driveway but to the church car park. Wanting a while to rest before picking up the rest of my life; anticipating a quiet space; instead I found a hundred children and a crowd of volunteers in fancy dress staffing the annual holiday club. 

I thought I wanted solitude; instead God found me friends. Arms around me, a physical comfort and a sharing of the sorrow; a strengthening before I stepped back into family life. God is good. 

It was a messy death, Goldie's. A long delay before the funeral; a longer delay before the inquest. And eventually, confirmation that it was an entirely avoidable death. This need not have happened. Goldie could, even now, be singing her way through the wee small hours, waking her housemates and laughing at her carers. Or, of course, she could now be crippled with pain from various conditions, she could be suffering from prolonged seizures, she could be the victim of sustained and systemic abuse. We'll never know, because it didn't happen that way. Her life was cut short, at the age where many young people consider life to be just about to begin. A catastrophic catalogue of errors means she will be forever 18. Dancing in heaven. 

Grief is a lonely path. We all walk it differently. But that friend who first greeted me in the car park, who allowed me to weep for my loss instead of carrying others, she now walks this same path. And friend after friend after friend follows on, until the circle of friends I have who have lost a child is, unbelievably, wider than the circle of friends who have not. 

When your world stops, worship is all that's left. I don't know that it's even necessarily a conscious choice. But when you fall, and God is right there underneath, what else is there? 

We talk about being living sacrifices. Sacrificial praise; the act of stepping out of the loneliness, the bitterness, the despair. The deliberate decision to look up, hold up our hands and worship, not necessarily leaving it all behind, but reaching up from the middle of the mess and acknowledging God as sovereign over all of it; that's a choice. And not an easy one. But the instinct to cling to The Rock; the reaction a hurt child crying for a parent, that I think goes deeper than any kind of choice. 

It's hard to explain, impossible to rationalise. God is good, all the time. And yet, the unthinkable has to be thought about. Children die. The world suffers. And we weave our way through it, somehow. 

We turn to God in the dark times. It's easy to pray, to beg and plead, when your child is sick. To ask for healing, wisdom, clarity of mind to make the right decisions. To pray before exams, before job interviews, when we don't know where the next meal is coming from, whether that's because there is no food in the house, or no mental energy to assemble that food into something resembling a meal our families will eat. 

And it's easy to give thanks (and easy to forget to give thanks) in the good times. To praise God for the exam results, the driving license, the clean bill of health. 

It can be suffocatingly hard to go on praising God from the depths of torment. But it can also be the only thing worth hanging onto. To receive another phone call, to know another friend's world has stopped; what else is there but to turn up the volume and lose oneself in an ocean of praise? 

It feels wrong. The temptation is to feel guilty, to resist the escape and instead to rely on ones own strength. To surrender to worship, even or perhaps especially messy, snotty, snivelly, crumpled on the floor in a heap praising whilst simultaneously daring to tell God how we really feel about the massive unfairness of it all type of worship, feels like failure. I should be stronger than that. 

But we were built for this. Jesus was broken for this. Not to plaster on a smile and pretend everything is alright, not to paper over the gaping loss, not to dance to someone else's artificial timetable. But to take our brokenness, to pick up the pieces of our lives, and to give them back to God. We don't have to fix ourselves. Which is good, because I can't.  

God in his goodness gave me friends for the journey. Friends who understand, who I don't have to hide from, but who will also let me hide behind an "I'm fine" knowing that sometimes it takes too much energy to explain. We're a mess. A broken people living in a broken world. But worship allows our brokenness to join God's great dance, it takes our pieces and places them in his mosaic. And when that's all we can do, it is also the only thing we need to do. 



Mr B said...

Thank you for sharing this. I don't really know what to say beyond that but my heart is full.

Tina said...

Praying for you and with so very often.


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